PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Mastery Charter School’s sophomore is pushing back after she says a referee forced her to choose between her hijab and her sport during a Philadelphia Public League quarterfinals game on Feb. 16.
“It was outrageous and it didn’t make sense,” said 16-year-old Nasihah Thompson-King. “I was upset.”
At a news conference Friday at the Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus, legislators and community leaders vowed to push back against the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association policy they say allowed this to happen.
The PIAA’s policy requires athletes to get prior approval for any head garment for religious or medical reasons. Though Thompson-King did not have a waiver, she says since the sixth grade, she’s had no problems playing in games while wearing her hijab.
She says instead of choosing to take off her hijab, she chose her faith and took the bench.
“Ultimately, she was benched and not allowed to play,” said aunt Salima Suswell.
Melissa Mertz, Associate Executive Director of the PIAA, says the association enacted the policy in 1992.
“The rule was really put in place for a safety component, that whatever’s being worn doesn’t have any hard, unyielding objects,” said Mertz. “These are all things that need to be discussed in an open forum and we are by all means open to that and having that discussion and very likely, we might make some changes to it.”
The School District of Philadelphia has formally requested a rule change.
A letter written by Philadelphia Public League President James Patrick Lynch reads in part: “Such waivers are unfair to student-athletes. They should always be eligible to play, and any religious garment worn with their game uniform should never prevent them from playing a game or participating in a sport they love.”
Elected officials also echoed those sentiments.
“You should not have to ask for a waiver to be able to worship in the way that you worship,” said State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown.
Fatima Thompson, the student’s mother, says the policy is discriminatory and archaic.
“The waiver must go, and we will leave no stones unturned to make sure that happens,” she said.
In the meantime, Thompson-King will be allowed to wear her hijab during Mastery’s championship game on Sunday.